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A Great Day in Harlem (1994)

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Art Kane, now deceased, coordinated a group photograph of all the top jazz musicians in NYC in the year 1958, for a piece in Esquire magazine. Just about every jazz musician at the time ... See full summary »

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Title: A Great Day in Harlem (1994)

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Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 1 win. See more awards »

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Art Kane, now deceased, coordinated a group photograph of all the top jazz musicians in NYC in the year 1958, for a piece in Esquire magazine. Just about every jazz musician at the time showed up for the photo shoot which took place in front of a brownstone near the 125th street station. The documentary compiles interviews of many of the musicians in the photograph to talk about the day of the photograph, and it shows film footage taken that day by Milt Hinton and his wife. Written by Daren Gill

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24 February 1995 (USA)  »

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$527,274 (USA)
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A "Great Day" plus a worthwhile bonus disc
2 July 2006 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Jean Bach does the seemingly impossible with "A Great Day in Harlem. She makes a 40-year-old B&W photograph come alive.

Art Kane's first photo assignment for Esquire magazine in 1958 must have been his own personal Everest. Get 50+ jazz musicians in one place at one time, stand across the street, point and shoot. Sure, no problem. But the cats came in droves, some of them having not yet gone to bed after a gig the night before. Some were probably nursing hangovers. But Kane captured a photo that is a cult icon, a time capsule of the heyday of hard bop, with many seminal figures from an earlier day standing proudly beside them.

The late great bassist, Milt Hinton, who is one of the warmest and most charming people interviewed, was also a fine photographer. His wife captured much of the Great Day with a color 8mm movie camera, and it's a treat to see the ensemble milling about on the street and taking their places for the final picture.

Many of the people in this photo are not and never were household names. But the musicians Jean Bach tracked down to give their reminiscences are quick to give them their due. They recognize their skill and talent and recall the personalities of their lesser-known counterparts. Perhaps those just getting into jazz will be motivated to seek out CDs by Benny Golson, Roy Eldridge and others by virtue of the "props" given them by their old buddies and bandmates.

The Bonus Disc is worth watching, if only for the segment on "copycat" photos, and there have been many. A restaging of the original photo is quite poignant. But nothing on it is filler: the jazzmen really did warm up to Jean Bach if they didn't already know her, and they ended up talking about everything.

This documentary was as great an idea as the Art Kane photo that inspired it. Highly recommended.


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